DanceReviewSouth East

Swan Lake – Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Director & Choreographer: Sir Matthew Bourne

Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Reviewer: Victoria Bawtree

The name Matthew Bourne is synonymous with innovation in dance and despite the fact that his original production of Swan Lake is now over 20 years old, the premise still feels contemporary and unique. This is story-telling that leaves its mark and allows its audience to re-live and ponder on its themes long after the curtain falls.

For those familiar with previous productions, there is a fresh design from Lez Brotherton that embraces up-to-date theatrical technology and a new lighting design from Paule Constable. The set feels opulent, matching its Royal characters, with over-sized stone pillars and elegant swathes of heavy curtain material. The bed, as the focal point of the Prince’s dreams, is particularly effective. The lighting is cleverly responsible for guiding the audience through the emotions of the story – from the Romantic midnight blue over rippling water to the stark black and white contrasts where this is conflict.

The story of the original production, however, remains true with its young Prince battling his sexuality while growing up under the watchful eye of the constitution and his mother, The Queen. He takes wrong turns, including in pursuing an inappropriate girlfriend, but ultimately he is drawn to the magical world of the lake first seen in his dreams and then in reality. The male corps de ballet brings a sense of menace and realism that matches the traits of a swan far more convincingly than female ballerinas in tutus. The choreography, coupled with the persuasive and occasional use of breathing and hissing, allows the swans to feel both magical and realistic – a fine balance that cannot be easy to achieve.

While this love story is full of conflict, it is also not without humour, frequently achieved through perfectly-timed expression and moments of contemporary twists to the choreography. The seedy nightclub, in which the Prince has his first real fall from grace, has a heady mix of 1960s with contemporary ballet, and Tchaikovsky’s famous Sugar Plum Fairy is given a playful and light-hearted touch that completely matches the score.

As expected from a Matthew Bourne production, the dancers are all first-class. Max Westwell, as The Swan and Stranger is athletic and commanding as he manipulates those around him. Liam Mower as The Prince has a sense of vulnerability which is seen through movement which is both elegant and sinuous. Carrie Willis as The Girlfriend has impeccable timing in her comic moments and Katrina Lyndon brings both elegance and a steely resolve to her character of The Queen.

From its creation in 2005 where its opening night failed to convince all the critics, this piece and, in particular, this revival must now be considered a classic Swan Lake in its own right. Matthew Bourne’s British dance company, New Adventures, is certainly fulfilling its original ambition of bringing dance to a new audience and will deservedly continue to do so for many years to come.

Runs until 30 March 2019 and continues to tour | Image: Contributed

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